Ryo is put through a ringer by the Yellow Heads, who have captured Yuanda Zhu after a fierce battle. Ryo is again in a tight spot and is shown his shortcomings since many things have gone wrong. We now see growth from Ryo in unexpected places, which created the centralized theme of the value of change. The status quo is upended, and a chaotic mess rises from the wreckage as Ryo and his comrades begin to seek answers to complex questions that grew in this episode. If you couldn’t tell, I was floored by this chapter of the series and love the direction it’s going in. The eventual arrival of Lan-Di in two days places a dire time limit on everyone’s actions. So what made this shakeup work, and why am I as delighted with this latest development? We are finally getting the character drama I’ve been craving, which made me and others more attached.
Xiuying heroically defends Ryo from Dou Niu in an incredible display of force, showcasing how silly Ryo was to doubt her. The action isn’t limited to her, as Yuanda Zhu is also quite capable of defending himself, though his efforts are cut short after Yuan places a knife at his neck. Successful in their kidnapping, the Yellow Heads flee victorious, leaving Xiuying to pick up the mess the gang left behind. We learn more of her backstory, how revenge consumed Ziming, and that she doesn’t want Ryo to follow what her brother did. Xiuying is adamant not to stand by as someone else she cares about falls down a pit of rage fueled by revenge. It’s always wonderful to see characters overcome their flaws, and seeing Xiuying overcome her trauma is a great moment. She shows her feelings in a tough-love sense and displays how much of a treasured mentor she is. This sentiment is exemplified when she bests Ryo in a duel to show him he’s not ready to fight Lan-Di. Having proved that she could have killed him with her elbow, Ryo is forced to accept the bitter truth of his weakness and is taught the technique Xiuying used (named the Counter Elbow Assault). Xiuying’s development in only a few episodes is remarkable, and I love how she has continued to stand by Ryo’s side. Her involvement in the story of Shenmue (thankfully) was not a one-and-done type of situation, and having Ryo stay involved with Xiuying has been an enormous boon for the series. She (like Ryo) has also looked to improve, making her assistance lovely to watch.
Meanwhile, the Yellow Heads continue to spy on Ryo and Ren to stay ahead of any rescue attempts. The plan is to hand Yuanda Zhu over to Lan-Di in two days to secure the backing of the Chi-You Men. You may recall the Chi-You Men have been the driving force the entire time with their goal to use the mirrors and create an apocalyptic event. This is an odd pairing given how the Yellow Heads have, until recently, been shown as feeble bordering on comic relief. Ryo has regularly dominated in fights with them, forcing them to retreat. Even one of their top lieutenants, Yuan, has been portrayed as inept when fleeing and before being knocked out. However, the Yellow Heads have become more threatening in the latest arc. Between tailing our heroes to capture Yuanda Zhu and setting up an ambush, they’ve come a long way from being a punching bag reminiscent of Pokemon’s Team Rocket. It’s been a while since Ryo had a formidable enemy before him, and it’s great to have it. I’ll always want to see a good triumph, but if the battle is tedious, it lacks the impact that a hard-fought victory carries. And it was the injection of Dou Niu that legitimized the gang. He’s competent and intimidating, which assures viewers that the two episodes should be climactic and satisfying!
It’s a comment I’ve made before, but I feel it’s still important to reiterate. I adore the approach Shenmue The Animation gives to background events. In the games, little, if any, side scenes of what the antagonists are doing when Ryo isn’t present are shown. By giving us this natural setup, viewers can quickly grasp what’s happening. This experience far beats doing a 1:1 with the games, where Ryo finds these things out after the fact. It’s a small choice that makes all the difference in making this feel less like a game and more like a kung-fu movie. And it’s important to signal this out because it added to the layer of the theme of change. It isn’t solely Ryo but his allies and, surprisingly, his adversaries making this arc much more impactful.
What happens next is a massive moment in the form of character development, where things take an unexpected turn with Wong. He informs Ryo and Ren that Yuanda Zhu is at the Yellow Heads’ base, leaving a wave of disappointment for the two. Joy, who is with everyone, immediately wants out of this situation, contrary to her original motives. She was unaware of the Yellow Heads’ involvement (Ryo needs to work on his communication skills) and is visibly terrified to be mixed up with them. While we aren’t sure who was ultimately responsible, Joy’s mother was killed by a criminal organization, making her wary of dealing with the underworld in general. Joy has shown to have a calm or thoughtful demeanor since her introduction. While she’s been teased for having romantic feelings for Ryo, Joy has been ready and willing to join the cause. But now, it’s the complete opposite due to her past. Joy will be forced to face her fears if she wants to help those she cares about, immersing in a world she’s been actively avoiding. It’s a problem she’s running from, but how long can she keep away from it as those she cares about fall victim to organized crime? Joy doesn’t have an answer yet as she doesn’t even fully commit to staying out when she later rescues Wong from the Yellow Heads. The time for her to stop running and make a choice is fast approaching, and I am left on the edge of my seat, wondering what she’ll choose to do.
Looking for more leads, Ryo and Ren meet with a friend of Shuqin’s. He recognized Ryo as the son of Iwao and was saddened at the passing of a friend. While this person is willing to open a path to the Yellow Heads’ base, he warns that attacking it will have significant consequences for him and everyone else. Realizing the implications, Ryo tells Ren to cut ties to stay safe, and Ren doesn’t seem keen on the proposition. So much so that he did argue with Ryo on this decision. It is incredibly gratifying to see Ryo grow in his consideration of others with everything that has transpired. Ryo getting advice is a constant, but he often ignores it before life beats it into him. It’s possible that since the friend of Shuqin who mentioned it has a history with Ryo’s father, he paid it more heed. Whatever the reason, seeing our hero maturing is the kind of change fans should love to witness. It gives Ryo an added layer that has been lacking.
However, just because Ryo wishes to keep Ren away, that doesn’t mean Ren will listen. Even after being dismissed, Ren decides to have Ryo’s back, and tails him from the shadows, showing that he may be doing this for more reasons than fortune. Ren’s arc is heavily spotlighted with a conversation with Joy, in which Ren is told that he’s sticking his neck out far more than usual. Ryo has rubbed off on Ren, and Joy expresses that Ryo is who Ren wishes he was. It’s heartening to see Ren grow from being motivated only by money to becoming more altruistic. The theme of change in this episode shines the greatest for Ren because of this very shift. Shenmue The Animation is capable of drawing in viewers with its depictions of characters struggling and growing. We’ve been along this journey of self-improvement with Ren, watching his interests grow from being selfish to being as awestruck as we are at Ryo’s heroics. In the same way Ryo captivated Toonami fans, he has won over Ren. While none of us are gang leaders, I imagine most of us shared Ren’s frustrations with Ryo’s impatience and poor decisions. Seeing him become something more gives the audience the feeling of growing with him.
While Ryo makes his way through an underground street fighting tournament (operated by the Yellow Heads) to find their base, Wong gets into his own troubles. He finds himself roped into another con job by his fellow members of Heavens (Ren’s gang) as he contemplates any way to help Ryo. As he enters a building looking for a mark for his scheme, Wong overhears some Yellow Heads discussing that they have been spying on Ryo and Ren to prevent them from rescuing Yuanda Zhu. Taken aback at the threat to his leader Wong reflexively (and foolishly) shouts out Ren’s name in terror. The nearby Yellow Heads hear this and go after Wong in a daring chase scene. Wong only escapes thanks to Joy taking him with her on her motorcycle. Though she is too frightened to get involved with the Yellow Heads, Joy still wants to help those around her. And after Ryo wins multiple battles, he is finally led to their base. Once this becomes apparent, Ren jumps out of nowhere to interrogate the thug suspecting that Ryo is in trouble. Ren deftly receives the information on where prisoners are kept but doesn’t realize they’re walking right into a trap. The episode ends with Dou Niu ready to fight as Ryo and Ren try to escape with their lives!
Between Ryo, Xiuying, and Joy, we have three characters victimized by the criminal world of Hong Kong, and each responded differently, which highlighted the theme of change profoundly. There is no correct way to react through trials and tribulations, but I found the different responses from our leads comforting since it emulated the human response to threats (fight, flight, freeze). Seeing some of our favorite heroes respond to their hardships is encouraging because it makes viewers (and myself) root for them more. They connect on a pathos level that all anime series need to keep people invested. It’s growth that only happened because they decided to change their initial approach. And aside from this, it’s great to see Ren become the person I believed he was when he was first introduced. While we haven’t seen his response to something traumatic, Shenmue the Animation leaves the door open for Ren to surprise us further. It took a while, but Ren became the Han Solo (a scoundrel with a heart of gold) of Shenmue, and I love that.
Ryo has his work cut out for him, as Shenmue the Animation leaves viewers on a cliffhanger. Both will be squaring off against the formidable Dou Niu, with the arrival of Lan-Di looming. But despite how grim things are looking, fans can find comfort with Ryo’s allies and how they are helping. This latest episode was a highlight of the series, and I was thrilled to see it play out. I smiled so much seeing Ren genuinely at Ryo’s back and Xiuying still training him even though they have a difference of opinion. I wasn’t expecting the Yellow Heads to become such a threat, but thankfully Ryo isn’t dealing with pushovers that plagued previous antagonists. I sense a satisfying climactic battle in the works and am excited for the final two episodes!
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